Hay Point Live Culture Foods went into business in the winter of 2018, but Owen Sullivan's passion for fermented foods started years ago, in his college apartment kitchen. He was an art school student at East Carolina University by day, but at home found a love for another kind of art — the art of fermentation.
This hobby led him to become a brewer at a small, local brewery in Manteo. While working and learning the ropes of being a brewer, he continued his experimentations with other kinds of ferments, like kombucha and vegetable mixes at home. After six years at the brewing job, he realized that he was more into the stuff he was doing at home.
In the winter of 2018, some good friends of his had the idea to start Secotan Market, a farmers market in Wanchese, and were looking for local vendors to sell their goods. He and his wife Jenna took this as an opportunity to jump in and see if they could turn his passion into his profession.
"I used the market as an incubator to see if fermented foods would be something people on the Outer Banks would even be interested in. I didn't know if it was going to work," says Sullivan.
Hay Point Live Culture Foods, named for the property on the Outer Banks his family has owned since 1920 and where he began home brewing, was born out of a fascination for the fermentation process, a love of experimentation, and a desire to highlight local food and farmers.
You can see these values woven into the fabric of his business, or shall I say bubbling up from the scoby of his business. Everything he does is small batch, experimental, and featuring all local, seasonal foods. Because the produce changes with the seasons, he gets to experiment with all kinds of vegetable blends. So far he has created at least a couple dozen varieties of fermented vegetable blends, including napa kimchi and fermented sweet potato shred, a rotating variety of kombucha and kvass, and most recently fermented mustard, which is just like regular mustard but with live, active cultures.
"Since it's seasonal it makes it fun because it keeps you doing different things and it's always changing," says Sullivan.
Fermented foods have been honored and recognized for their health benefits in cultures all over the world for thousands of years. Having an unbalanced intestinal flora has been proven to cause all sorts of health issues from weight gain to digestive symptoms, to mood disorders. And in our modern world, our flora is under constant attack. It can become unbalanced by a host of things, including aging, the standard American diet, disease, antibiotics, poor health, and stress.
"The health benefits are a huge selling point of why people want it in their diets," he says.
According to Sullivan, the fermentation process also makes the nutrients more bioavailable. For example, Vitamin C and Iron are naturally occurring in cabbage, but the fermentation process makes your body absorb much more of it. They are also extremely high in Vitamin A, K, and B-Complex Vitamins. In fact, Sullivan says kombucha is a great option for vegans and vegetarians because it is a great source of Vitamin B12, which is usually only available in animal products. Foods also have the highest enzyme activity when fermented, which are lacking in the processed foods we eat today.
"Humans have evolved eating this kind of diet. We all could really use that kind of diet now —raw, living foods from the garden."
When asked his vision for the business, he said he wants to keep it small so that he can stay true his roots and keep highlighting local produce from farms like Croatan Gardens in Wanchese, and Somerset Farm in Edenton.
"Right now, we feature all local, organic produce, and we have a bottle drop so that we can reuse bottles and people don't have to throw them away. If I took it to a larger scale, we wouldn't be able to do these things."
A business that is good for your health, the local economy, and the planet? Now that is something we can get behind.
You can go try out their rotating kombucha and fermented vegetable options at the Secotan Market, and Dowdy Farmers Market, and you can also find their kombucha at Nags Head Pizza, The Spot, Ashley's Espresso Parlour, Cafe Lachine, and Cork and Brew. My gut tells me you won't be disappointed.